One Summer in Istanbul
– Andrew Villone
As some of you may have seen by following me or through some of the AWS livestreams this summer, I spent a full month in Istanbul. As I had been to the ‘capital of the world’ 4 other times, I was not here to rub elbows with tourists and Instagram all the famous sights in the Sultanahmet district. So I decided to book an apartment on the Asian side of the city, a place where most tourists don’t go with the exception of one restaurant (more on that later). I stayed in the Moda neighborhood which is part of the Kadikoy area. Timeout magazine has it on their 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world – for whatever that’s worth.
I doubt I’ve even been to 50 neighbourhoods on my travels. You know how it is. Plop yourself in the old town or city centre like everyone else. But this trip was not about sight seeing. I came there to write and work. And after all, I had never stayed anywhere for 31 days in a row. On top of everything else, Moda is cheaper than the tourist districts on the European side. And that is saying something as all of Turkey (yes, even their biggest city) is without a doubt the least expensive destination in/near Europe — by a lot !
Since I was preoccupied by various tours and personal ventures and, perhaps more importantly, I was tired of over-planning my travels, I came to Moda knowing only the address of my apartment and 2-3 cafes/eateries that my Airbnb hostess recommended. That is it.
I did not scour IG for photos or review TripAdvisor and other sites on every place known to humankind for eating, drinking, shopping and all that nonsense. Heck, I didn’t even download the metro maps to see where and how I could get to other places. Just lived in the moment and trusted that 23 years of basically non-stop travel would be enough to get me through showing up in Istanbul without a plan or a care in the world. As it turns out, I was right.
To my total shock and (pleasant) surprise, Moda is like a mish-mash of 1990’s Seattle hoods like Capitol Hill and Fremont mixed with San Francisco. Except that everything is in Turkish and that prices here (now, this summer) are about half of what they were back in the 90’s in Seattle/SF. Don’t worry too much on the language barrier as most people understand some English, although they speak less than what they understand. They do however understand the concept of menu’s in English so that made things much easier.
And except that the coffee houses and cafe culture here put those in Seattle to shame. Want to go vegan for a few days, no problem. Tired of the classic Turkish kebabs, OK then how about the best damn nachos outside of America? Gluten-free? Seemingly half the cafes and bakeries have a special selection of GF treats waiting for you. Dishes from Hong Kong or Lebanon – yep those too. House of dumplings and BBQ joints. Yes and Yes. They even have Berliner and Boston creme doughnuts.
Worried that it’s hard to find alcoholic drinks in Turkey? In the Sultanahmet for sure but over in Moda, nope. Bars, pubs, craft beers, beer shops, wine shops, whatever floats your boat. Of course alcohol is not as inexpensive as the rest of the menu but I probably cannot drink for cheaper in Slovenia where I live. And once you’ve had a few drinks (or more) you can stumble into one of the hundred or so tattoo parlours and get inked 😉 I actually did mine sober just so I gave myself a chance to hit the eject button before it went down.
Here are my favorite aspects of Moda (in no particular order):
— No tourist buses or tour groups here. You almost forget you are in a) city of 20 million (!) b) it’s summer with no pandemic and c) Istanbul is one of the most known cities on the planet. Locals, students, expats, individual travelers and Americans trying to write comic books. That’s pretty much who is here.
— Around almost every corner is a record shop. That might be the most 90’s Seattle-esque thing about Moda. With music in actual physical form: vinyl, posters, reel-to-reel (yes, no joke) and cassettes (I so wished I had my old walkman).
— Breakfast and brunch culture. Sorry Europe, your breakfasts are boring AF! I want pancakes and bacon or maybe French toast with cherry compote and almonds or perhaps good old hashbrowns and sausage. All these are available here with your choice of Aeropress, Frenchpress, espresso, drip or ice coffees to wash it down with. And then there is all the Turkish style breakfast which you should surprise yourself with once you’re here. I’ll just leave you with one word – Menemen. If you eat eggs then order it and enjoy your morning.
— Ease of transport. For 50 Lira (roughly $2.75) you can buy a transport card from machines that work on ferries, buses and metro. Then you load up money on that. I would put 100 Lira on mine and that gave me about 11 trips. Can you believe a scenic ferry ride from Asia to Europe costs a mere .50¢ ! And they run every 15 minutes or so taking 15-20 minutes. Many of them come with live music courtesy of buskers. Any direction you look there’s something amazing to see.
— As mentioned at the start, most people only come to the Asian side for a meal at Ciya restaurant. Now Ciya is not Michelin but it is damn good food and one of the best and more original Turkish menus around. I had two dinners here with my good friend and each time we shared a few starters and then each had a couple of mains to ourselves. And to drink it was just fizzy water (this is one place without alcohol). But those two dinners (for two people) were a combined 50 dollars! You look at the bill and assume they made a mistake but they did not. So in Ciya, as with all other places I ate in, I tipped really well.
Now notice I did not write up a list of sites to see. Well if you read through your guide books on Istanbul, you will notice virtually all of those are on the other side. Moda and Kadikoy are for enjoying life and living in relative peace from the cacophony of tourism. But since you can walk to the ferry terminal in 10-12 minutes and then get across to the European side in less than 20 minutes, why wouldn’t you choose this underrated part of one of the largest cities in the world?
A land where east melts into west, Turkey’s Turquoise Coastline…
This is where cultures of the Middle East and West melts into a whole new lifestyle. Discover the ancient world of Lycians, Carians and Romans around the turquoise coasts of Turkey. We’ll trace the life of a Roman merchant in the lagoons of Caunos and the greatest city of the Romans, Ephesus the sacred port city dedicated to fertility for many ages. Experience the daily life of the eastern Aegean villages while comparing the grapes of ancient vineyards where wine was first fermented and traded all around the old world from Greece to Egypt.